By: Valerie Padilla Toro
If you’ve ever had a flat tire and you’ve gone to Cabo Rojo Tire to get it fixed, you know Axel Padilla. And odds are he probably knows you too.
“I always treat people like I’ve known them for years, even though I probably just met them,” he says. “That is probably why so many people come to me whenever they need something and why I am well known in Cabo Rojo.”
If you’ve ever spent some time with Axel whether it is while you wait for your car to be fixed or you’ve seen him out having dinner or a drink, you’ve probably noticed the large number of people who know him.
But he is more than just a business owner and worker. One regular costumer named Iris Crespo said that she and her husband have been going to Cabo Rojo Tire for “almost 30 years.” “Every time I come here, he welcomes me like we’re family and makes me laugh.”
Before he opened his business he was a night time student at the Interamerican University-San Germán where he majored in business administration. During the day he worked at a gloves factory until he decided it was time to be his own boss.
The idea of opening a tire center did not magically appear in his head. “My father worked for a tire company for more than 20 years,” he says, “he was my inspiration, so a little over 31 years ago I decided to open Cabo Rojo Tire.”
Axel’s employee, Welner Mercado, holds him in high regard. “Axel is more than my boss, he is more like a best friend and a father to me,” Welner who’s been working with Axel for more than 12, years added, “he’s always there for everyone, he’s a selfless human being, and I’m sure that is why so many people care for him.”
Even though his job might sound easy, it is not. He works six days a week and although he has six employees, he appears to be the one who does the most.
The most difficult hazard he has encountered is having to have knee surgery. “I had the knee surgery in September 2014 and it was extremely difficult for me being out of the job,” he said while rubbing his right knee, “I’m used to be working, and having to sit in my living room for six weeks was excruciating.”
He has also suffered other injuries. “One time I was trying to get a tire out of the rim and a piece of metal flew directly towards my eye and impregnated there,” he recalls. “I had to go to the hospital where they removed it with a magnet.” His vision wasn’t damaged but he now wears black and yellow nerd type glasses which help him see better.
Even though he is a hard worker who enjoys and love his job, he also loves participating in other activities that you wouldn’t guess.
Every year he portrays one of the Three Kings in Boquerón, PR. Axel keeps this commitment very dearly to his heart. It requires time and preparation because the Three Kings are booked during the holiday season to appear at some schools and children shelters in Western Puerto Rico.
The Three Kings are also required to raise money in order to buy gifts for the children in need. This is where his friendliness towards others and his excellent people skills reward him, as it is less complicated to raise money when a lot of people know that you are doing it for a good cause.
On the surface Axel is a 5’10, 53 year old man with black hair, bold eyebrows, light washed denim and a dark blue buttoned up shirt. He always wears a joyful smile on his face, even though he is probably tired. But what is most likely to capture your attention is his on growing beard.
For Axel, his “no shave November” starts actually in March ever year and does not end until mid-January.
“Every year that I’ve portrayed one of the Tree Kings, I’ve let my beard grow for more than six months,” he says. He has been portraying Gaspar for more than six years, the proof’s hanging on the walls of his work office.
He also has photos of his two daughters and grandson. There is also a display of some of the gifts he’s been given by happy clients and some recognition letters he has received from companies for his hard work.
Although his life might seem perfect today, it hasn’t always been. “Although I never experienced hunger in my childhood, my family was poor.” he says. “Even though I wasn’t required to, as an adolescent I went to work with my grandfather every summer so I could save money and help my parents buy my school supplies.”
Despite the fact that he is now very outspoken, when he was little he did not talk until he was 3 years old, he was allergic to almost every kind of fabric which made difficult for his mother to find clothes for him and he almost choke to death with a quenepa seed.
But almost choking, was nothing compared to what happened on a Wednesday night two years ago. After shopping at the local Walgreens he was kidnapped at gun point by to men who later released him near Boquerón, after stealing his money, car and jewelry.
“It is a miracle that I am here today, I thought they were going to kill me,” he says shifting his expression to a sad one. “They were using drugs in the car and they told me a few times they were going to kill me, I was extremely scared; that experience was traumatic.”
The FBI said that the kidnapers were most likely from another part of the island since they did not recognize him and they have not been found.
Because of this traumatic incident, he decided to get certified with gun management. He says, “I feel safer now that I been certified but I’ll never forget that night.”